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Maintain your sobriety during difficult period

In our collective attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through physical distancing and business closures, some folks have found temporary reprieve from the daily grind. However, for others, an even-darker cloud has emerged. Those in recovery from addiction are being tested with stressors and risk factors that threaten sobriety more than ever.

Maintaining sobriety requires ongoing, daily intentionality. It requires preparation, structure and personal insight. Staying in recovery also requires an engaged and supportive community. Like everyone, folks in recovery from addiction are finding their support systems overburdened, their self-care skills challenged and their vulnerability at a high point, regardless of past effort invested into personal wellness.

Even those without a formal diagnosis of substance use disorder and those who aren’t in active addiction treatment are on the edge. Alcohol sales — which have seen a 26 percent rise in year-over-year overall sales and a 400 percent increase in alcohol delivery services — tell the tale. People are locked in their homes and drinking at never-before-seen rates. Mental health professionals call this behavior “self-medication” — people are using whatever they can get their hands on to alleviate stress and get through this crisis. This list includes opioids, which leads to spikes in overdose deaths. Pent-up stress is coming out in other tragic ways too, with a dramatic uptrend in domestic violence.

It’s inevitable more people will emerge from lockdowns with more problems than unemployment and household cashflow.

Tap into your existing network by actively seeking support from family, friends, neighbors and clergy. Make a schedule on when you and these folks will check in with one another. Be creative in how you connect — phone, email, text, video calls. By setting accountability, you also offer support to others who likely also need it.

Create structure for yourself. Start with what you had pre-COVID and work from there. Eat meals at your typical times. Exercise at the same time you usually do — or start an exercise program. Maintain bedtime and wake time. If you aren’t sleeping well, pay attention to what the professionals call “sleep hygiene.” If the news and social media are stressing you out, reduce your exposure to them. Dim the lights, limit noise, take a hot shower or bath before going to bed — and avoid alcohol.

Also, track of your alcohol intake. Count the drinks you have. The simple act of just tracking your drinking — even by using a paper on your fridge with hashmarks by the date — will reduce your consumption. Be sure to characterize a “drink” with the accurate definition of a standard drink.

Carve time to make room for purpose and meaning. We can’t control the state of the world. But we can control our inner experience of it. Calming exercises really work — but they require intentional, repetitive practice to be effective. Control your breath by learning diaphragmatic breathing. Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Listen to music, engage in guided imagery exercises — there are countless apps for this. Learn mindfulness. That is, realize it’s understandable to feel anxious about the future. Allow yourself to experience those feelings without judgment. Only then will they pass through you.

As tough as it sounds, we can build a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation. Have enough supplies, but don’t hoard. Be sure you have enough medication. Stay connected to your health care provider. Most are offering telehealth options.

Do simple things to increase your sense of safety: wash your hands according to CDC guidelines. Practice physical distancing. And when you must leave the house, grant other people the grace and patience you wish they’d offer you. They’re just as stressed, after all. Clean and disinfect objects and commonly used surfaces. And make a plan on what will happen and how you will react if someone in your home becomes ill or must quarantine due to COVID-19.

Finally, get professional help if you need it. If you’re feeling depressed, are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, or feel like your alcohol use is getting out of hand, talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Sobriety, recovery and even your general well-being must be managed every day. That takes self-awareness, planning, and preparation — all things you can start working on today, even amidst a pandemic.

Remember, this crisis will not last forever. And know that you aren’t alone in this.

Dr. Navdeep Kang is a local clinical psychologist and Obama Foundation Fellow.

columns@tribtoday.com

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